entrusting ourselves to God

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot and all the possessions that they had gathered and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran, and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Genesis 12:1-9; NRSVue

The story of the faith of Abraham begins here. Often the emphasis is put on the passage in Genesis 15 when God takes Abraham out into the night sky and asks him to count the stars, which then must have been magnificent in all their stellar wonder. Then telling “Abram” at the time (as here), “So shall your descendants be.” Then Abraham believing God’s word, and God reckoning it to Abraham as righteousness. And of course the other, Abraham’s willingness to follow through on God’s word to sacrifice his son Isaac. Both are talked about in the New Testament. And often there’s an emphasis on the first in the idea that it’s our faith alone that justifies, but we get some seeming push back from James who insists that works must follow for faith to be authentic, pointing to Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son.

All of this needs to be considered in the entire narrative we find in the Hebrew Bible/ Christian Old Testament. And we find there a story of a human just like us, yes surely gifted in some good ways like we are too, but also not having everything together, and his life along with his wife Sarai (later, Sarah) unavoidably open for misunderstanding and false judgment from others, and as it turns out unavoidably needing the miraculous blessing of God. Everything about their experience cried out as contradictory to God’s initial and ongoing promise as spelled out right at the start in the passage above. It ended up being a matter of entrusting themselves to God. And within what turned out to be a rather long drawn out existence as strangers, even aliens, in a foreign land, but the land of promise for what would be the base of what God was going to do through Abraham and Sarah for the world.

Abraham is the father of all who believe. And this is not just a matter of believing and that’s it. It’s no less than entrusting ourselves, our lives fully into God’s hands. And involved in that is always the idea that this concerns all of life. I don’t entrust myself to God and then go and do whatever. We entrust ourselves to God so that we might live in the will of God, a different life entirely than what we would live otherwise. Nothing less than that.

keep pressing forward no matter what

My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me,
and graciously teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
I cling to your decrees, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame.
I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be celebrated across the board nowadays, though I’m sure that if he were still present, some would at best only grant him a grudging respect. Some of the same elements that he and the Civil Rights Movement were up against, have come to the fore today, saying and standing for some of the very same things which he was challenging. King was committed to nonviolent resistance to evil, always in love for enemies, grounded in the promise of shalom in the gospel of Christ.

Part of King’s story was the need to go on no matter what, whatever pressures were being faced internally or externally. This is something of the same lesson I have to keep going through, of course in my case, in much lesser matters. I find that I have to just keep pushing through, going through by faith. And one of the most important aspects for me to remember is to simply accept the heaviness, fear, whatever it may be I’m experiencing, and keep going through in faith.

If I resist those negative experiences, as a friend reminded me this morning, I’m resisting it in the power of the flesh which will get me nowhere. If I’m getting nowhere over time, that’s a sure sign that I’m going about it wrong. But going on in the Spirit, means I accept whatever I’m experiencing, that being a part of trusting God instead of thinking that somehow it’s up to me to get rid of it. At least this is something which has worked for me over and over. Though it seems like I still have to be reminded the hard way.

Martin Luther King Jr. was able to be triumphant through it all, because he did not try to escape reality, but was willing under the leadership of the Spirit, to confront it head on, along with others. Part of what Christ calls all of his followers to.

faith living in the real world

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:5-6

Abraham’s story is in many ways not that far removed from ours. Sure, as far as culture goes, it was worlds apart. But like ours it was chalk full of contradictions, conundrums, we might even add conflicts as in conflict of interest. Abraham was responding to the call and vision from God as he understood it. But life itself didn’t seem to match up with it at all, and Abraham’s (Abram, here) solutions, though still blessed by God, were not God’s fulfillment of the promise.

I find this so very true for myself and my own life and situations. I call him my mentor, a good friend who faithfully meets with me, and who leads a small group my wife and I are a part of. He has encouraged me time and time again to trust God. And sometimes it’s easy to just think something like, “Well yes, I certainly trust God. After all, I already have made a faith commitment to Christ.” And just shrug your shoulders, go on, and more or less forget it.

But what my friend tells me I think is not only quite appropriate for me, but even sorely needed in the ongoing unfolding of whatever time is left. We often look at narratives in scripture such as Abraham’s and shake our heads in wonder when we read in the New Testament for example, how Abraham didn’t waver in his faith, how he is a leading exemplar of faith for us, the father of all who believe. And yet if we really take an honest careful look at ourselves, are we really any better, or even as good? We live now in our time with supposedly more light than Abraham had, though I think that somehow is fiction because light in a sense is more or less the same in experience regardless of what era. I doubt that it was any easier for Jesus’s disciples to have faith, then it is for us today, since faith is not strictly speaking about seeing. God somehow makes it possible and real to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.”

So this is something I want to center on more, myself. Simply believing, trusting. While faith has the sense of allegiance to, as well, I’m thinking more of the entrusting of one’s life, and to the end of doing what is right and good, as well as for well-being. Of course not just for myself, but as was certainly true in the case for Abraham (in his case, for the world) for others. In Jesus others actually first, but ourselves included. Yes, faith in the middle, maelstrom and mess of life. Faith in God. Faith in God’s word. Faith in the Word himself, Christ.

faith, trusting in God, not a mere, empty platitude

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

John 6:28-29

In the Christian faith, there is something required on our part: faith, trust in God. We find that requirement all throughout scripture, and perhaps especially marked in the New Testament. It is a faith which looks to God, seriously to God, and trusts one’s life and every detail of life to God. And with the distinction in the New Testament to have faith in the one God sent, Christ.

I know for myself that while I basically live in this faith, nevertheless I can find it slippery quite often. Like Peter in the above passage in Matthew, I so easily take my eyes off of the Lord. Only by remaining fixed on Christ can we walk on the waves of life, right through the places where otherwise we would sink, or likely never tread. Or as in the John passage, trying to do the works of God on our own. Not. Not really. What is required of us again is faith, trusting in God.

This is something to enter into and put into practice day after day after day after day. No matter what the circumstance, what we’re going through, whatever it might be, and I mean whatever. Most all of that is okay, but what is needed and indeed required of us is simply faith. That means not looking to and depending on ourselves, but on God. God’s faithfulness, the faithfulness of Christ. That God will see us through come what may. And then we’re enabled to follow Jesus.

secondary necessary provision

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Wouldn’t we all like to live above certain things? Whatever ails us, to be precise. When we’re in the clear, away from that, life with its normal inconveniences and struggles seems mostly all good. But when we fall into what seems to us an unnecessary pit, all of that is gone, and it’s almost as if we can’t even climb our way out, or it’s at least a struggle to do so. Or more like the light has to unexpectedly and as it were slowly, as if sneaking up on us and entering unawares, come to settle in, and we can again breathe a little easy, even while a bit traumatized from what has preceded.

What we’re told in the above passage is an example of what I would like to call secondary, but necessary provision. I’m not sure what better term to give it right now. Secondary not in the sense that it’s not important and even vital for us, for our lives here and now. But secondary in the sense that it’s given to us when we’re muddled up into something less than the full life in which God wants us to live in Christ. Actually it might be primary or of first importance for a long time, until we can grow to the point where we need this help now and then, but to some extent don’t live with the problem area enveloping and plaguing our lives.

Something to consider in the life of God given to us in Jesus.

what is life?

“No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:24-34

I’m not sure what we think life is sometimes. For some it seems to be mostly about being entertained and going from one fun thing to the next. For others it’s more or less the grim reality of trying to survive with the sense that life is hard. For many it’s the desire to win the lottery so to speak, to be financially independent, able to map out one’s own life with minimal interference.

But what did Jesus say? Life for Jesus is about love for God and for neighbor, about seeking first God’s rule and righteousness. About being happy with having enough, and being unhappy until everyone else has enough. Being generous, realizing that all we have is a gift from God. About not hoarding what we have, but planning well so that our families are cared for, and so that our participation in God’s work in the world is enhanced.

Jesus’s words are not easy. They challenge us at every turn. To begin to rethink life itself. What it is for us in this present existence. Parallel to the existence to come.life

God meets us exactly where we’re at for the help we need

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

“God helps those who help themselves.” Not really. God helps those who look to God for help. It’s not like God doesn’t help people who don’t call on God’s name. Yes, God does. But God honors those who do call out to God and seek to trust and be committed to God, seeking God and God’s will, wanting to live in God’s way.

But we have to settle into the mode that neither circumstances nor life itself depend on us for the needed answer. Instead we need to look to God for God’s help in giving us wisdom and direction and peace. No matter what the situation, even hard places, God will help. Yes, in the darkness, in the worst of times as well as in the best of times. We need only to look up in prayer, expectation and wonder.

anything worth doing is worth doing slowly

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry?
Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?
But you say, ‘I can’t help it.
I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’

Jeremiah 2:25; MSG

I know, I know. There are some things you have to do quickly or fast. Not a few jobs require that. And if a child is going in the wrong direction, we’re going to be there in a blink to stop them. Yes, there are exceptions to be sure. But I think there’s a rule which we would all do well to follow. And maybe if we did, the times when we have to hurry might be less.

Speeding up and being in a hurry can betray the attitude that it all depends on us. We have to take the bull by the horns and take matters in our own hands. And in a world driven by profit, the more and more we get done, the better. But I wonder if that’s good for us or even for the world at large.

For my own good and for the good of others around me, I think there’s no doubt that I need to slow down as much as possible and be deliberate. Above all, this is for the good of my own soul, but that can turn out to be good for those around me.

Otherwise, and I know this by experience all too well, I’m often harried, in a hurry, and frustrated. And we all know that there’s plenty of truth in the maxim: “Haste makes waste.”

And above, the primal most fundamental reality: I need to live fully in the life given to me in the breath and love of God. A life we’re all meant to learn to rest in and enjoy by ourselves and within community, with each other. Seen in Jesus’s life in the accounts about him in the gospels and indeed for everyone in and through him.

where does our security lie?

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:25-33

In the United States we have on our paper money the words, “In God We Trust.” It raises an interesting question: Do we really trust in God, or in money itself? It’s not like money is evil in itself. It’s the love of money which is called a root of all kinds of evil. Our lives and well-being are not dependent on our material wealth, but on God. Do we really believe that?

It’s not easy to write about things which hit so close to home. Words can be so deceptive, an actual substitute for substance in actually doing and becoming what is being talked about. Of course it’s a matter of the heart, of worship, and that always plays out in what we do and don’t do.

No matter how much one is worth or not worth money-wise, our trust should always be in God. This will never be like a slam dunk, in other words it won’t be like we’ve arrived in this life. But as far as we know, and what we should forever and always be striving for is nothing more nor less than total and complete trust in God.

Which means we’ll want to be obedient and will take the steps to do so, giving to those in need and seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first and foremost in our thoughts and actions.

We’ll never really be secure unless our security comes from God which is where our only true security lies.

putting on the whole armor of God: the shield of faith

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Ephesians 6:16

There’s no escape from the reality that we’re in a spiritual conflict. Some Mennonites and Anabaptists are reticent to use any terminology that acknowledges warfare given the peace tradition which is both nonresistant to evil in that it rejects any violent act of retaliation, and resistant to evil in the sense of showing love through prayers and good deeds to any enemies. That’s all well and good, but I accept as reality that we are in an actual conflict spiritually with forces and beings which are not human. There may be other viable ways to see that, but that there are spirit “demonic” entities active in the world seems evident enough to me. At any rate we do face an evil that is active and makes it way into the fabric of human culture and activity.

The shield of faith is part of the whole armor of God that we’re to take up to put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one which are directed against us. Believe you me when I say that I’ve experienced a lot of this which has got past my shield because in all likelihood I really did not have it up to stop those arrows. They then get through to the mind and heart and tend to immobilize, so that one is at a loss until the Spirit of God helps one to do what needs to be done, or at least helps in whatever way one can receive. I know about this in experience all too well.

My wife told me that it’s not our job to worry, but to trust in the Lord. I’m sure for others the darts cause other problems, whatever they may be. For me over the years, anxiety has been my number one issue, not to say I haven’t had other problems. But that has been the dominant one.

The shield of faith refers to a faith in God’s word in Christ, in the gospel. It’s a good news which covers us in this life, and takes care of whatever might plague us, so that we can carry on in God’s will in Jesus, as followers of Jesus. So that we can simply follow on.

But this is something we have to do. This requires effort. Putting on the whole armor of God along with taking up the shield of faith. The ideal would be to do that as the arrows come our way, to block them. Having a sense of discernment to know. The reality is that the arrows often seem to get through before we put up that shield. I would like to learn how to catch the arrows ahead of time. God in God’s grace more than understands, but still God wants to teach us to do better. Again this requires action, and one would suspect a vigilance on our part. And a willingness and corresponding commitment to carry on, regardless, battle hardened so to speak, of course in the spiritual battle we’re in.

Something else I’m working on even today. In and through Jesus.